Softball has invaded South Surrey and Cloverdale this week.
The top echelon of female fastpitch players from around the world are getting grimy at the 2011 Scotiabank Canadian Open Fastpitch International Championship.
Within a 10-block radius of Softball City, one of the venues for the championship, bored kids in the back of a minivan could play spot-the-most-licence-plates from many U.S. states.
Last Friday (July 8), I had a chance to attend the Shaw Youth Clinic where members of Team Canada mentored up-and-coming star softball players from our community.
The experience had me reminiscing about my early softball years.
It was a warm summer night in Powell River in the mid 1980s. I was about six years old and at the bottom end of the age group – the runt of team.
I had aced T-ball and decided to try my hand at softball. The name of the sport itself sounded docile enough.
Let me tell you, there is nothing soft about having your bony ankle smacked – at close range – by a 200-gram projectile filled with compressed cork.
So there I was, my first at-bat as part of this big girls’ team.
I want to say the pitcher was tall for her age but in reality it was just the mound she was perched on; her eyes narrowing from the under the brim of her team-issue ball cap.
The first pitch whizzed by me. (In hindsight, it probably moved more like a gentle egg toss across home plate).
“I’m not hitting that,” I told myself.
“Wait for a good one,” my coach instructed.
I didn’t know what a good one – or even a strike – looked like at that point in my minor softball career, so I patiently waited.
I so desperately wanted to safely pounce on that dirty white first base bag at the end of the shakily-drawn lime path.
Three balls later, I had found a loophole.
“Take your base,” boomed the middle-age umpire.
You mean to tell me that I can just choose not to swing and then first base is all mine – and I don’t even have to run?
That attitude is probably why I never liked soccer. I’m a terrible Italian.
Softball was really the only sport that stuck with me, and here’s why: After being inside a classroom all day, I got to spend my spring evenings rolling around in the outfield at the lush, Douglas fir-lined McCartney Creek Park in North Vancouver.
Then there was the warm-up before each game: a chance for me to catch up with a friend and fellow teammate between throws.
And unlike hockey, basketball or soccer – where the athlete is only occasionally put in the spotlight during a penalty shot, a free throw or a penalty kick – in softball, the fans are cheering you on during every at-bat. That can do wonders for your self-esteem.
It’s been 25 years since I took that first swing and I have never missed a season. I even played two weeks before my wedding, risking bruising the parts of my body not covered by the white dress. I cringed when our third baseman took a line drive in the face during that game.
Making the transition from girls’ minor fastpitch to an adult recreational softball league was quite simple. Because softball is a relatively slow-paced game, it entices many workplace colleagues to throw together a team.
You don’t even have to be a great player, as long as you can dodge the occasional jeer from the cocky guy at shortstop who started dipping into the beer cooler during warm-up.
Still not convinced about just how addictive softball can be? Just spend some time at the Canadian Open this weekend and talk to some of the 1,300 athletes who are participating.
Talk about a fever pitch.
More info about the fastpitch championship is at: http://www.canadianopenfastpitch.com/